Since the closing of the Scurrilous tour cycle, it seems that Protest the Hero have reached an important decision: they are through with the middleman – by middleman, I of course mean the record label — and, after finding themselves in financial trouble after producing three top-tier albums, you can hardly blame them. It was for this reason, then, that the band made the executive decision to forego the middleman almost entirely for their fourth album. To mixed reactions, the band announced the fourth album would be crowdfunded. Of course, as we now know, this decision was an extremely smart one. Volition, which was funded through an IndieGogo campaign that accumulated approximately $350,000, proved that the DIY method can be wildly successful.
Fast forward two years. Fans are itchin’ for some new tunes. Would it be entirely cliche to go the IndieGogo route once more? Maybe. Would it be as successful? That’s difficult to gauge. One thing is certain, however — Protest are much better off making music on their own terms.
Enter Pacific Myth — the latest installment of ingenuity (and music!) from Protest the Hero. Taking the form of a six-song EP delivered track-by-track to subscribers over the course of six months, Protest are certainly, as they put it, “stirring the pot” with this idea.
Before we launch into that, let’s break down what’s up for grabs: The plan is for the band to release six new songs on the 15th day of each month for the next six months. The subscription service is facilitated by BandCamp, and promises automatic delivery of the songs each month once the membership is purchased. For Pacific Myth, Protest have opted for a two-tier system. The first tier is $12, and the second $25. Just looking for tunes? $12 is it, my friend. That may sound to be a little on the steeper side for a six song EP, but every month you’ll receive both the original and instrumental version, as well as a hi-res download of each tracks’ unique cover art.
So what will tier two, which totals in at $25, get ya? All of the above, plus you’ll get a documentary documenting the making of Volition. Sectioned into six 20-minute segments, the documentary will also come in monthly installments. The band also hints perks to come — available only to subscribers. Nothing solid has surfaced yet regarding the “when” and “how”s, but their website drops a few hints in terms of what they have in mind, including but not limited to: “limited edition screen prints, Pacific Myth related clothing, and even concerts / listening parties.” When you really think about it, it works out to between $2-$4 roughly per month – not bad at all!
But is that besides the point? There have been plenty of stories in the past decade about new music purchasing models that were supposed to revolutionize how fans could access music and how bands could capitalize on it, many of which disappeared into the void of space and time due to their ultimate impracticality on either small or larger scales. Does this new kind of Bandcamp subscription model separate itself from the pack in that sense, or will it fall prey to many of the same trappings? We asked three of our staff writers, Elizabeth Wood, Spencer Snitil, and Scott Murphy for their thoughts on this whole concept, what they think it means for the band, the fans, and the independent and underground metal scene as a whole.
POINT: Protest the Hero are releasing music in the most efficient way and are leading the charge to cut the financial cord between band and label.
Spencer Snitil: I believe this is a great move for the band and the industry in two ways. Firstly, it marks a shift in the way the band releases their music. The band have stated that this is a sustainable way for them to work, as it cuts down studio time and enables them to get the music out super quick, as opposed to spending a year writing and recording all the material, and then waiting for it to come out. In the video update, the band said they were normally sick of the music by the time it came out, and this seems true for almost any recording band. I can imagine how it must feel to hear the same songs over and over again for weeks, and even months, on end. The band has also stated that if this goes well, they may just continue to release music in this way, and that it can possibly change their future and whether or not they ever release a “full album” again with all the music coming out at once.
Secondly, this sets another precedent. Did anyone else notice the influx of Indiegogo campaigns for bands after Protest’s super successful attempt? The band was successful, and other bands sought to capitalize off of this, and with the band adopting this new method, it’s likely that we see others attempt to do the same, and will all likely have varying degrees of success with it. Will we see other bands launching subscription services like Protest? It’s entirely likely, especially given more and more bands are moving to the DIY side of the fence and recording their own music themselves. It also makes it easier if you’re a smaller band. It’s a lot less expensive to hit the studio for a couple of days here and there as opposed to a couple of weeks, and it’s even better if you produce yourself. It marks what could become the new paradigm in the independent music industry. In the future, will there be a platform for all new bands to do something like this? Will there be bands of larger nature that do something similar? Only time will tell, but for now I think what they’re doing is cool, and if they’re into it and see it working long term, then by all means they should go for it.
COUNTERPOINT: This model is less practical and sustainable than the band and advocates think.
Scott Murphy: I was not remotely surprised by all of the buzz generated by the announcement of Pacific Myth; all of the Protest the Hero fans that I know have avid enthusiasm for the band’s work that far surpasses casual listening. And I get it: the chance to hear new music from any one of my personal favorite bands would cause me a great deal of excitement as well. But while this post is in no way intended to belittle PTH’s ambitions and their fans’ feelings about Pacific Myth, reading into the streaming services’ details — particularly regarding Tier 1 — has made me hesitant to join the chorus of praise.
Tier 1’s perks are not worth $12.
Granted, I should begin by admitting that I am an avid supporter of physical music, often times to the detriment of my wallet (I type this as I am spinning an original pressing of Swan‘s Holy Money on vinyl). Even so, $12 seems too costly for what is provided in Tier 1’s subscription. Taking the $1 standard value of digital singles on Bandcamp and many other digital music platforms, the six singles in Pacific Myth’s series should ultimately cost $6, not $12. PTH addressed this by pointing out that an instrumental version of each track accompanies each single, which technically fleshes the price out to $12. But there should be a great deal of stress placed on the “technically” in the band’s defense; after all, these are instrumental versions of existing songs, not additional instrumental songs themselves. It also seems strange that PTH would make the removal of Rody Walker’s vocals – arguably one of the most compelling features of their music – a selling point for these six additional tracks. Touting each track’s high-resolution artwork, lyrics and liner notes is also strange considering how innate this is for many digital and physical avenues of purchasing music, including albums that contain these things while also bearing a lower price tag. Admittedly, the final set of perks – including full music scores, video playthroughs, music videos, subscriber-only merch and “lots of other treats” – may be justifiable of the $12 subscription for some fans. However, this last piece brings me to my next issue with the service…
Pacific Myth mimics Tidal in its exclusionary tactics.
In anticipating the argument that “true fans” of the band should be willing to support them (something that I agree with as a general principle), let me point out that PTH uploaded a full stream of their latest album Volition prior to its reelase (via Metal Injection):
I make this point to help illustrate the fact that pre (and post) release streaming is a prevalent part of modern music consumption, and for good reason. This tool is not a product of our “entitlement culture,” but a sign of progress and empowerment of music consumers. I challenge anyone to make a convincing argument that the ability to sample music before purchasing is not an improvement from the ghosts of record stores past, with their blind buys based solely upon cover art, recommendations from friends & fan-zines and possibly – depending on the genre – singles played on MTV or the radio. While it may seem like heresy to treat music like a product…it is. I will never have the enough money to completely fulfill my album wish list; every trip to a record store involves me putting records back in the crates due to insufficient funds, not because of my lack of desire to support the artists. Streaming services like Bandcamp and Spotify allow me to legally sample the abundance of music that interests me so that I can determine which albums worth buying.
By PTH making a subscription necessary to even listen to the Pacific Myth’s six tracks, they are removing the democratization of sound that has become a crucial cultural norm. This is not a matter of weeding out the fans who want to free ride via streaming; as I alluded and link to above, PTH clearly realizes that the purpose of legal streaming stretches far beyond this. Well, maybe not entirely, as their comment that “unlike some other streaming platforms, we still believe that our music has value” misrepresents a key detail of modern streaming.
Spotify (and other streaming services) are not truly as evil as some people (*cough* labels *cough*) would like you to believe.
While I implore you to read the entirety of David Von Wiegandt’s excellent article detailing the legal nuances required of streaming services (here), I will attempt to summarize it as best as I can here:
Legally speaking, streaming differs from digital downloads in that it constitutes a “performance” of a song, with further implications arising from the listener’s relation to that performance. Pandora, for example, is exempt from these complications because it offers an involuntary, randomized mode of access. But since Spotify’s users may access music voluntarily, the need for multiple, complex layers of copyright permissions are triggered, to the detriment of both Spotify and artists. Spotify had to pay heavy royalty fees when negotiating with the four major American record labels (to the tune of $300 million), and because of the power held by these labels in relation to their artists, artists receive roughly 1/10th of a cent per stream instead of the 45% of total royalties that they would be entitled to if the Copyright Act were altered in a just manner.
Stepping away from the legal jargon, the TL;DR point is this: Spotify has become an easy target of misguided anger from artists, causing artists to toughen up and send strongly worded Tweets which Spotify then responds to in a PR friendly tone, all while label executives use revenue profits as cum-rags. This is not to say that Spotify and other streaming services bear no responsibility to stand up for artists; they should, even if they are profit-driven businesses. But the efforts made to fix this problem by services like Tidal have been bogged down by a myriad of issues, with Pacific Myth sharing one of Tidal’s key failings/misunderstandings…
“Exclusive” content does not exist on the internet.
When one of my friends — who I knew had not subscribed to Pacific Myth — began commenting on the services first single “Ragged Tooth,” I quickly pulled up YouTube and had my suspicions confirmed. Two rips of the track had already been uploaded to YouTube, and while those tracks have since been taken down at the time of this post, the point made in this section’s header still remains. Once something has been posted online, there is absolutely nothing stopping someone from illegally redistributing it across numerous channels. This is no way an endorsement of these practices, and I do not believe whatsoever that the answer to my criticisms is for fans to unofficially stream or download Pacific Myth‘s tracks. But at the same time, this is an unavoidable fact of the internet, and as long as bands continue uploading songs via subscription or for regular download, someone somewhere is going to create unofficial channels of access to them.
I still hope that Pacific Myth works for PTH and their fans.
My feelings towards subscription only services have not been changed by Pacific Myth; they are restrictive and ineffective sources of music consumption that curb the democratization of music and are often more expensive than legal alternatives. However, despite the numerous reservations which I have covered above, I have no doubt that Pacific Myth was conceived by PTH with the best intentions in mind, and I genuinely hope that their fans who subscribe to the service enjoy the new tracks and continue supporting the band in whatever way(s) work best for their budgets.
COUNTERPOINT 2: Protest the Hero should be commended for wanting to cut out the middleman, but this still might not be direct and immediate enough for some fans.
Elizabeth Wood: I’ll admit it took a little bit of stewing to reach a verdict on how I feel about my favourite band utilizing a subscription system for their latest release. Typically, any announcement from Protest the Hero, no matter how minute, results in an influx of text messages and social media activity on my end, because I’m sort-of — uh, we’ll go with “outwardly overzealous” — about these dudes. I’ve found myself a nice little niche in which I’ve experienced a great sense of community, and for me, that’s a major selling point. I spent the later part of my night on stand-by for the big announcement, and when it finally happened, the inevitable exploding of phones occurred. From gushing with fellow super fans, to cocking my head in confusion at the nay-sayers voicing their disdain of the system in my inbox, to my own disbelief that I was actually hearing new Protest tunes, there was a lot to take in. Looking back, here are my thoughts:
On one hand, I was a little disappointed. Yes, I was really feeling the instant gratification of getting to hear a song RIGHT FRIGGIN’ NOW, but I was also less than thrilled at the idea of having to wait six months to hear the release in its entirety (I’m a pretty serious front-to-back listener). I’m sure I’ll come to appreciate the suspense each month, but it will certainly take a little getting used to!
Beyond my own impatience, though, I couldn’t help but feel a certain sense of divisiveness about it when I saw some peers missing out on the hype for no reason other than they couldn’t afford the twelve dollars at the time. It’s come to be expected that new music is typically available for at least previewing online, and there’s a certain element of inclusiveness in that that is eliminated by the use of a subscription service. Protest is a band that appeals primarily to young adults. Sometimes, spending money on music simply isn’t an option, especially for those who are just starting out on their own. Admittedly, it was a little bit disappointing to see fans every bit as enthusiastic missing out on the moment due to their financial situation.
Of course, that’s the nature of the beast. I’m sure if I thought about it too much I’d feel for those unable to attend shows they’re itchin’ to go to due to lack of cash, as well. Same deal with ultra-rare one-night-only limited-run merch. Sometimes, it’s just the wrong ledger balance at the wrong time, and that’s life. The good news is that Pacific Myth will still be available for those willing to save up!
On the other hand, I was equally disappointed to see that the video had been uploaded to YouTube (though it has since been removed, as far as I can tell), as I felt it undermined the entire purpose of the subscription service, and so soon after its announcement.
I chalk my conflicting opinions up to the current state of the industry. We have come to expect that new music will be instantly available to us the moment it makes its debut, and at no cost to us, the listener. While I wouldn’t necessarily say that comes from a place of entitlement, it certainly doesn’t help the artist make a living, especially when you factor in the many middlemen that play a role in the industry. What Protest are doing is removing the middleman in order to simplify the relationship between the listener and the musician. “Hey, you like us so much that you’ll throw us a few bucks and we’ll throw you a few tracks? Let’s do business.” By creating a subscription system, this band is creating a direct money/service market that allows interested parties to fork over a little dough in exchange for the opportunity to follow a band through an endeavour. It’s no more simple or complicated than that. While I wouldn’t say it’s revolutionary, I think it’s very admirable, especially in an industry in desperate need of reform.
-EW, SS, & SM